Saturday, September 27, 2014

For the Woman In Ithaca


The only time I recall hearing someone cry I didn't know or couldn't see was in the tent next to me outside Jackson, Wyoming in the middle of August in the middle of the 1970's. It  was also the middle of the night. I thought perhaps the bar had closed and disappointment had set in. I went back to sleep.

The next day, my companion and I stopped in a bar/cafe somewhere up the line to get a bite to eat. A few people were shooting pool and playing the jukebox. I noticed every song they played was by Elvis and thought, "They sure are Elvis fans." You know where I'm going with this, right?

We drove through Yellowstone, saw some elk, stopped at Old Faithful - the usual things one does in Yellowstone - still out of tune with the rest of the world. It wasn't until we were leaving Yellowstone that we finally turned on the radio. Just as I did so, the announcer said, "They're lining up at Graceland to pay their respects ..."

When I read this poem today, that came to mind. But, the poignancy of this poem far outweighs, for me, the poignancy of losing the King. This is about a real person hurting over a real life who, for all we know, still struggles through the occasional night when she wonders ... I like how the poet honors that grief.


"Toast"

There was a woman in Ithaca
who cried softly all night
in the next room and helpless
I fell in love with her under the blanket
of snow that settled on all the roofs
of the town, filling up
every dark depression.

Next morning
in the motel coffee shop
I studied all the made-up faces
of women. Was it the middle-aged blonde
who kidded the waitress
or the young brunette lifting
her cup like a toast?

Love, whoever you are,
your courage was my companion
for many cold towns
after the betrayal of Ithaca,
and when I order coffee
in a strange place, still
I say, lifting, this is for you.


~ Leonard Nathan





Painting by Edward Hopper

32 comments:

  1. A compassionate poem.

    Your poem reflects an experience I had a couple of days ago. I was getting ready to pull out of a parking spot as a nicely dressed woman crossed in front of me on the sidewalk. She was softly sobbing and walking with her head down in her own private world although their were other folks passing her by. She never looked up -- but just kept walking. Her demeanor spoke "leave me alone." She was totally oblivious to all -- my first experience of hearing and seeing someone cry in their own world in public. It was a sobering experience to realize the depth of hidden grievances. -- barbara

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    1. Thank you so much, Barbara, for this beautiful and thoughtful comment. There are a lot of people carrying around a lot of grief in this old world ...

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  2. You've reminded me of a day when I was six years old and first heard some wonderful music on the radio. It was like nothing I'd heard before and was by a man with a strange name - Buddy Holly. They played lots of music by him on that day but, being only six, I didn't ask why.
    And you've also brought to mind the song "Galway To Graceland" by the wonderful Richard Thompson.

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    1. That's a nice memory ... and thanks for the reminder of Richard Thompson. I haven't listened to him in a while... I will remedy that. Good to hear from you ... You haven't been showing up in my reader so have bookmarked ... you have wonderful posts with some first class photography ... always interesting.

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  3. Your post brought back those several times when I gardened --for 30 years-- in public places and came upon people who were crying. I never interfered if I felt they had come to a garden to be alone --except once, an old man just wanted me to sit beside him. When his baritone barking subsided, we both got up and went back to our lives. He said, "Pain. Thanks." And I guess that's what it always is.

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    1. How wonderful that you provided exactly what he needed ... someone to sit with him in silence and just be present with his pain ...

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  4. I think we were all sad the day Elvis died, but most of us didn't shed any tears.

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    1. I've never been an idolizer of fame ... and so my tears are usually shed for the individual life in individual pain that is, ultimately, all of our pain ... IMO ... so good to hear from you again ... :)

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  5. I hope when I feel poorly I can recall this poem

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    1. I tihnk of the REM song,"Everybody Hurts (Sometime)"

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  6. The poem is lovely and perfectly illustrated by the Hopper painting Teresa, loved it very much. The poem is going in my collection it's brilliant.
    Funny how when certain people die we can all seem to remember what we were doing and where we were when we first heard....President Kennedy, Elvis, Princess Diana and now I shall remember the moment I heard Robin Williams died as well.
    I liked the poem so much I'm off to find out more of Leonard Nathan, thanks Teresa.

    Hugs Jane x

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    1. Jane, It's always such a treat to hear from you, and it's always nice to find a new poet ...I hope you're doing well ... hugs

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  7. I do like that painting..... it's so what?.... 20's? The hat, radiator, marble top table, a saucer with the cup. Enoy the last gasps of summer.

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    1. The last gasps it is ... very warm today ... a big dip in temps tomorrow ... good to see you, Manzi

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  8. This truly is a beautifully rendered post, Teresa; woeful and hopeful at the same time. May we always have a cup to raise for another.

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    1. Thank you, Penny. We all need to be reminded of our shared pain from time to time and how important it is to be aware, and present when called for ...

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  9. I was living in a split-level house that sloppily been made into a duplex. I lived upstairs and could hear the TV going often until morning because the dad in the family below often fell asleep watching TV. Judging from the trash can, he usually had regular assistance from cheap beer. One night instead of the usual muffled TV sounds suddenly it was Whitney Houston belting out "I Will Always Love You"...on repeat. From dusk till dawn I heard the mom sobbing and singing along so loudly that I could hear her over Whitney rattling my walls. One of their boys told me the next day... "My dad fell over dead playing pool at the bar last night."

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    1. oh, wow. Rita ... that's a powerful story ... thank you .. very much for telling it ... we must never become inured to the deep pain others feel ...

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  10. Lovely thought...someone you never met might be thinking of you in a lasting and compassionate way.

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  11. This is an exquisite example of what Lawrence Durrell laid out as the writer's task: to rework reality to show its significant side. It's a beautiful pairing with the painting, although I confess I've always seen this particular vision of Hoppers as comfortable and comforting. The woman's expression certainly shows a hint of melancholy, but it might be just thoughtfulness -- and the kind of peace that comes once the emotion has ebbed away.

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    1. Yes, I can see that in her face, but I've always responded to Hopper's melancholia, so evident in his work. Perhaps it's that following morning, when something has almost imperceptibly been altered ... the poem does bring out how such seemingly small things are often the very things that transcend time and remain unforgettable.

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  12. I remember hearing on the radio that Elvis had died. I was in a car being driven by mother. She didn't become hysterical and I'm not sure if she shed tears. But I knew she was hurt and had lost something that was once very important in her life. I better understood how she must have felt the night I learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

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    1. yes, absolutely, and the woman in the motel room next to the poet in Ithaca ...

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  13. Hopper provides windows into the universe. Let's all jump......

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  14. Love Edward Hopper!
    I like the poem too.

    I am glad I find you!

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  15. Wonderful blog as is your poetry site. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you so much, Brian. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

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